Responding to rape
Posted on April 24, 2010
I was at a conference on rape last Tuesday and, as is often the case with events like this, it’s taken me a few days to process what I thought about it all.
Well actually no, it hasn’t, ‘cos as my friends could tell you, I had a fair few things to say about it immediately afterwards. But my problem is that sometimes I can have such a visceral reaction to something, I think it’s wiser to mull it over for a while before I write anything about it, just to make sure that my initial “this fucking sucks!” response was justified.
And this time I think it was. So here goes.
The conference was this one – Responding to Rape, at the London South Bank University, and overall, to be fair to both the organisers and the participants, I have to say it was a really interesting day. However, there were a few things that were said during the day that really pissed me off.
For a start, while I think the Met Police’s Sapphire Units are a positive step-forward for the victims of rape and sexual assault, I was really disappointed to hear DCS Caroline Bates, of the Metropolitan Police Rape Response Unit, talking in her presentation about the need to educate young women about their responsibilities in helping to prevent rape. In fact let’s face it, I was more than disappointed, I was fucking angry, to hear someone who I thought might actually get it indulge in victim blaming shite about how girls make themselves vulnerable to rape and sexual assault by drinking too much and so on.
And then there was Dr. Miranda Horvath, from the University of Surrey, who waxed lyrical about the role restorative justice could play in rape and sexual assault cases. Seriously, no. Just fuck that shit. That’s what I thought when she talked about it then and, after a few days of reading up on restorative justice and giving it a bit more thought, that’s still my response now.
Restorative justice isn’t justice, not when it comes to sex crimes anyway: it’s letting men off the hook for the hate crimes they perpetrate against women. As far as I’m concerned the last thing a rape victim needs is to be sat in a room (or to open a letter) and be faced with some whining bastard bleating on about how he didn’t mean it really, and how he really truly understands that what he did was wrong and he’s sorry now, so please forgive him and don’t send him to prison ‘cos it’ll ruin his poor sad shitty fucking life.
And finally, and I’m not going to focus this on any one specific conference participant because this is a theme that runs through all of these events and discussions, I’m fed up with what a colleague dubbed the “medicalisation of coping strategies,” and the inference that often goes with it that any woman who doesn’t report a rape or sexual assault makes that choice because she’s suffering from PTSD or some other trauma induced disorder.
Because do you know what? While I accept that PTSD and so on are perfectly normal and valid responses to rape and sexual assault, so is not reporting to the police: and the two are not necessarily intertwined.
When the rape conviction rate stands at a measly 6% (and yes, I am still using the 6% figure Baroness Stern, for the very same reasons that Vera Baird alludes to here); when women know that they’re unlikely to be believed by the officers handling their case, by the CPS, and by whoever else they may run into within the criminal justice system during the course of the laboriously long process; and when women know that they’re unlikely to ever actually get their day in court, and that they’re even less likely to see justice achieved on their behalf; deciding right from the very get-go that it’s not worth bothering to report rape to the powers that be is an absolutely sane and logical decision to make.
Yes, it would be great if every women who was ever raped or abused felt supported enough to take their case right through the system. Yes, it would be great if whenever a woman was raped there was a man being held accountable somewhere for his crime. But the reality is that the current system doesn’t support women. The reality is that we know the odds are stacked against us in these cases. And the reality is that no amount of PTSD counselling or CBT is going to persuade some of us otherwise.
Don’t get me wrong, I completely support the provision of counselling and whatever else women might need to help them move on in their lives after rape and sexual assault: that’s why I’m such a staunch advocate for Rape Crisis Centres. What I cannot support however is the idea that every woman who chooses not to report is psychologically damaged in some way, and that her conscious choice not to put herself through the wringer when she knows she’s got a 94% chance of getting nowhere anyway, is nothing more than an expression of that damage.
Because it’s not.
Having said all that, I would urge anyone who’s been the victim of rape or sexual assault to please tell someone: it doesn’t have to be the police or anyone in authority.
The Rape Crisis National Freephone Helpline is open from 12-2.30pm & 7-9.30pm every day of the year: you can call them on 0808 802 9999
Absolutely agree with you Cath. In this culture of misogyny, where rape is viewed as normal and just something that women have to put up with or be blamed for not avoiding, then why would any woman ever feel that someone will listen to her sufficiently to support her to make a prosecution? Blimey, it’s not enough to blame us for being raped, now we get blamed for not ending the culture of rape!
Since the majority of rapes (56% according to the british crime survey) are committed by partners or ex partners, was DCS Bates advocating lesbian separatism for all women then?
Can I also say that cognitive behavioural therapy is very appropriate for some people. However basically, telling someone who’s been raped that their feelings about it are irrational/unrealistic (which is the cornerstone of most CBT) is bloody insulting.
Very well said and yes rape is a vicious, hateful, and demeaning crime deserving severe punishment for the perpetrator, not the victim. As men, we need to take the forefront in eliminating this attack. We need to attend appropriate educational classes and we need to speak up for women who could then join us in fighting all forms of misogyny. Until we do, women are left to languish. Cath, you are correct, sadly, women have no support and no reason to subject themselves to more abuse, but if they do not stand up and make the crime visible, nothing will change. As Oxfordbloo says, rape is culturally accepted as normal.
I too attended this conference and yes I too was furious, particularly when I heard DCS Caroline Bates engaging in blaming women and girls for not supposedly preventing males from raping and/or committing other forms of sexual violence against them.
One attendee at this conference did ask DCS. Bates whether or not the police actively seek to ‘educate’ boys about ‘safety’ given police representatives do go into schools and tell, yes tell girls and young women they must ensure they abide by our male supremacist rules.
Meaning of course, girls and young women must not consume alcohol because this in itself means the female individual is responsible, should a male sexual predator rap and/or subject her to sexual violence. Likewise, girls and young women are supposed not to venture out in men’s public spaces without a male guardian because it is always women’s and girls’ responsibility to ensure males do not rape them.
Oh yes, said DCS Bates, we do tell the boys they are responsible for ensuring they have a female’s consent before engaging in sexual activity!! Wrong answer DCS Bates, the police should be telling boys and girls it is never the woman’s/girl’s responsibility/fault if she is raped and/or subjected to male sexual violence.
Likewise, DCS Bates, alcohol is not the ‘rapist’ it is those males who believe it is their alienable right to have unlimited sexual access to any female, because women unlike men are not not human but men’s sexual service stations.
Better still, DCS Bates, the police should be informing boys that if they venture out in the public sphere and are subjected to male violence – it is their fault not the male perpetrator’s. Then ask the boys why is this statement wrong. I’m sure there would be widespread anger at the suggestion male victims are the ones responsible for ‘allowing’ a crime to be committed against them.
Restorative justice – another convenient way of saying ‘well male sexual violence against women has always occurred and there is nothing our legal systemcan do.’ So subjecting a female rape survivor to a catalogue of the male rapist’s excuses/minimalisations and claiming the female rape survivor is responsible for not preventing him from committing his crime is going to do what precisely? Nothing actually because male sexual violence against women is a huge societal problem and it is certainly not about individual men who are supposedly so obtuse they are incapable of understanding and accepting women and girls own their bodies and sexuality not men.
What needs to be done is a radical overhaul of the whole legal system because in fact the court process is not adversarial – it is instead appallingly weighed in favour of the male defendants. Women rape survivors are not even allowed to give evidence in the way they wish, because such evidence is supposedly ‘not factual’ but rather narrative. Male defendants have access to a barrister and yes the barrister does ‘coach’ the male defendant, whereas the female rape survivor is not allowed to even discuss her case with prosecution council.
Likewise this latest attempt to hide the facts concerning the numbers of women continuing to be raped by men is nothing more than a deliberate attempt to minimalise the extent to which male sexual violence against women is increasing – not decreasing.
Currently only 6% male rapists are being convicted and most of these rapists are convicted because they admit their crime/have raped a female stranger/ or else ‘fit’ the stereotypical male rapist profile.
However, whilst I concur that female survivors of men’s sexual violence should tell someone, there is always the risk the person hearing will immediately discount the female survivor’s story. All too commonly we cannot know how another person will react and this includes individuals we have known for many years.
Given our male supremacist society has increased its women-blaming stance and absolving men of any accountability, as well as continuing to believe women not men are supposedly responsible for preventing male sexual violence being committed against them, disclosure is always very, very risky.
Disclosing to someone does help, but sadly we cannot know how the other person will react.
well said cath. very disappointing that that was the police stance.
i was thinking yesterday about the analogy of when we say ‘you don’t blame a mugging victim for having a posh phone’ and how once i was answered back on that point by someone who said ‘but what about those ads that tell you not to have your phone on display? or leave your front door unlocked?’
and i was thinking how yes, we have those ads, but at the end of the day, the police aren’t going to refuse to take you seriously because you were mugged. they might say ‘ you should be more careful about where you use your iphone’ (for example) but if they catch the mugger, the jury won’t go ‘ ahh well, that i phone was just too tempting, what do you expect the mugger to do?’ you won’t be refused justice.
and then i thought, fucking hell, that anaalogy is flawed from the start (despite working as an exmaple) because an iphone is an iphone and a rape victim is a person, a human being. and when the criminal justice system is failing women in such huge numbers, and failing them in such destructive ways, we really need to look at how we are behaving as a society and question it.
not one question in the political leaders debates so far has been about women’s issues or violence against women. its just not on the agenda. no wonder women don’t want to go to the police.
Brilliantly put Sianushka. But the real problem with the analogy is that yes it IS possible to greatly reduce your chances of being burgled/mugged by doing certain things like having a burglar alarm and window locks on your house, or not walking down dark alleys with your iphone on display etc.
But there’s absolutely no way you can realistically reduce your chances of being raped other than avoiding men. Which the police never tell women to do. Most rapes don’t happen to drunk women down dark alleys by strangers actually. They’re committed by someone the victim knows and trusts.
And furthermore, Polly, sianuska, and Jennifer, if a bloke goes out and gets too drunk to look after himself and then gets beaten up (as happened to an ex of mine after getting into an unlicensed minicab), no-one would DREAM of telling them they’d best avoid getting so drunk in future.
I agree absolutely that we need an overhaul of the justice system as it relates to rape. But I think we also need an overhaul of society. We need to tell men that they have a responsibility not to rape. And when they – as they always do – get all upset and insulted because they wouldn’t *dream* of raping a woman, we need to tell then that THAT’S NOT ENOUGH.
They need to stop allowing rape jokes to be told everywhere, and to stop joking about how drunk girls are a good bet. They need to bloody well start openly disapproving of rape, not just Stranger In An Alley rape but fumbling, drunken, acquaintance rape too, because right now that doesn’t happen.
I hear the ‘But how are we supposed to knoooow!’ far too often these days. I wonder – and would this be traumatic for victims? – if the govt could run ads showing various fumbly situations? Because to me, the idea that you “wouldn’t know” if someone wasn’t consenting is such bullshit. You fucking well would, and they do, and this fallacy of “uncertainty” needs to be exposed for the pathetic, andocentric bollocks it is.
Absolutely, which is why I posted the Rape Crisis helpline number. I think I can safely say that speaking to someone at Rape Crisis will not result in the victim being disbelieved or their story being discounted.
That’s true Cath. But the one thing you hear women say over and over at rape crisis is *it was my fault*.
It isn’t. Ever.
And not to refer to anything in particular, maybe HM Guv could run an ad saying *If a woman says nothing, it doesn’t mean she consents*.
And how are we supposed to knoooow?
Use your bloody common sense. If you have to wheedle and cajole and threaten. Or if she just says nothing
She’s not *consenting* to sex. You big rapist!
No disrespect finisterre but I think most dudes know when a woman doesn’t consent. But they know they’ll get away with it so they don’t care that much.
Really, if you are in doubt that someone wants sex with you, should you be having sex with them?
Exactly, Polly. Who the hell wants to have sex with someone WHO DOESN’T WANT TO HAVE SEX WITH YOU!
Society sees a woman’s desires as irrelevant in a sexual ‘transaction’, though if you say this to men, they start shouting you down.
But since we have a culture that actively encourages men to rape a drunk woman, to rape her while she sleeps, to guilt-trip and hassle her into it, to ‘get some’ and ‘score’, it’s quite obvious that a woman’s desires are irrelevant. Heterosexual men are quite literally taught not to care about their sexual partner’s feelings, wants or humanity, so they don’t even AGREE that sex with a really drunk/quiet/unenthusiastic woman IS rape.
I do believe rape is a horrible sexual hate crime and that the men who are responsible should be punished to the full extent of the law…or beyond. However, it is truly unbelievable so many woman refuse to believe there have ever been date rape cases where a women who is intoxicated or under the influence of drugs wrongly accuses a man of rape because she does not recollect what took place or is remorseful for what happened the next day after a consensual sexual encounter. Though this scenario may not take place very often, the odds are that wrongful accusations by female “victims” must happen, and painting the picture that men are 100% responsible 100% of the time is wrong.
Gary, I’m not sure anyone would deny that this happens on occasion. The objection, and the reason why many of us don’t discuss rape cases in these terms is that it’s an argument that’s often used to derail threads and to divert the discussion away from a very real problem in our society, that of male sexual violence.
If you look at the Guardian’s Comment is Free site for instance, any discussion on rape quickly becomes a discussion about how all women are “lying tarts” out to destroy men’s reputations by falsely accusing them of rape. The main issue then gets ignored in favour of a nonsensical statistical debate about how many women actually lie and how many are “genuine” rape victims.
On a site like this on the other hand, I think it’s pretty clear that when we’re discussing rape we’re discussing rape. We’re not talking about that handful of cases when for whatever reason women have made false accusations. You can see that as a sin of omission if you want, but personally, as the site owner, I refuse to allow this place to become yet another misogynist bear pit where women’s testimony is yet again disbelieved, and where the dominant discourse is one of “yeah, but we all know women are lying bitchez, now prove that they’re not.”
If people want to have that kind of discussion, there are plenty of other places on the net happy to provide them with the space to do so.
Imagine, on CiF, an article about how muggings are up 50% this year, and convictions mugging have gone down 20%.
The first comment would not be, ‘But how do you know all these people aren’t lying about being mugged?’ because that doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t fit the social discourse, because we all agree that people get mugged. The discussion that followed the article would not then be about how often people stage muggings to cunningly frame their neighbours/colleagues/friends/boss for the crime.
And no, stealing is not the same as rape, but since a discussion of false allegations immediately follows an article on rape, do we then infer that most people don’t believe that rape happens?